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Central Vista: Supreme Court says not inclined to enter into merits of case, says HC seized of it

The construction of the Rs 20,000 crore project in the heart of the national capital has been brought under the ambit of "essential services", angering the opposition.

The Supreme Court on Friday said it is not inclined to enter into the merits of the case while hearing the appeal seeking a stay on the Central Vista construction work during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Apex Court said that the High Court is seized of the matter. “We are of the opinion that the matter is pending before the HC and the matter is simply in adjournment,” said the bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari. 

The Court noted in its order, “After some arguments placed by Senior Adv Sidharth Luthra, we are of the opinion that the matter is pending before the HC and the matter is simply in adjournment. We are not inclined to enter into the merits of the case.”

It further said, “We request Mr Luthra, either himself or on behalf of the counsel of petitioner to make a request before the HC Chief Justice on Monday, to take up the matter as earliest as possible. The HC shall fasten the date for early hearing looking at the urgency of the matter.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta at this point made an objection to the word “shall” he said, it will set up a wrong precedent.

Justice Vineet Saran replied we will look into it. 

“During the hearing today, take the Court through an increasing rate of Covid in NCT of Delhi. This is the matter which needs consideration. We are only concerned about a three and a half kilometres stretch,” he said. 

“He showed the order passed by the DDMA. Today the health system is broken down,” he added. 

Justice Vineet Saran said we are conscious of it…we can’t make any observation, it can be taken otherwise. Court is conscious of this fact.

Siddarth Luthra said, “Shapoorji Pallonji (construction company) allowed to do work in three shifts and allowed to carry workers in buses from different sites. I cannot understand how the construction activity be allowed during this period. When health services are being compromised.” 

Justice Saran said the HC is looking at this matter. 

Luthra replied we have made a statement before the HC that we are conscious of the judgment passed by the Supreme Court (whereby the construction on Central Vista Redevelopment Project) has been allowed. The HC said it has to study the judgment of the Supreme Court. He said he can file an affidavit. 

Justice Maheshwari pointed out that there is no affidavit required. See HC is seized of the matter. Once you have filed a petition before the HC you have to wait, said Justice Maheshwari. 

Sidharth Luthra said, “The HC deferred the matter to May 17, without asking response from the Centre. I have filed it on humanitarian grounds, if the matter can be preponed. We have postponed the IPL. Despite the best efforts from Centre, there are limitations.”

Solicitor General at this point objected and said such a person come in the middle and filing a SLP against interim order raises a serious doubt. 

Supreme Court said, “We will ask HC to take up matter on Monday.” 

SG replied that this will set up a wrong precedent in a simply adjourned matter SC is directing.

Luthra requested that since there is a public health and the HC may take this matter on May 10. 

Supreme Court said, “See our difficulty, we don’t have the order of the HC. We assume that it’s the simply adjourned matter before the HC. We are not going to direct the HC.”

Previously, Luthra mentioned the matter on Wednesday this week, before the Supreme Court bench led by the CJI and had requested to take up the plea after the Delhi High Court deferred the hearing of the request till May 17.

Then the matter was listed today before the bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari. 

The construction of the Rs 20,000 crore project in the heart of the national capital has been brought under the ambit of “essential services” angering the opposition. 

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday had refused to issue notice in the plea seeking stay/suspension on all construction activity on the project amid the Covid pandemic while stating the Court wanted to study the Supreme Court judgment and list the matter for further hearing on May 17.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh heard the matter through video conferencing.

Read Also: Supreme Court directs Delhi Jal Board to approach Upper Yamuna River Board for shortage of water in Delhi

The Supreme Court on January 5 this year had allowed the Central government to go ahead with the Central Vista Project, which aims to redevelop Parliament and government offices around it.

The petition was filed in the Delhi High Court by petitioners Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi through Advocates Gautam Khazanchi and Pradyuman Kaistha seeks interim relief of halt on work of Central Vista Project (CVP) in light of Covid-19. 

The petition said that the petitioners are deeply concerned by the super spreading potential and threat posed by the continuing construction activity at the ‘Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project’ awarded by Respondents CPWD to Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Pvt. Ltd which entails construction activity on Rajpath and the surrounding lawns from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan. 

The petitioners are further moved by the plight of the workers who are being exposed to the infection on a daily basis while working and that too without payment. The petitioners sought redressal of the aforementioned issues and have no personal interest in this litigation. 

The petition is based on official documents, published news reports and other relevant documents available in the public forum. The petitioners have undertaken due research and sought to procure all relevant publicly available material. 

The petition is being filed for the larger benefit of curtailing the uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 in the NCT of Delhi and for the direct benefit of not only its citizens but also the workers presently working at the Project at the project site. 

The petitioner said that the State’s resources in Delhi are already under high stress and it is incumbent that further spread of Covid-19 is curtailed and government orders are complied with. It is submitted that since the beneficiaries of prayer sought in the petition (workers with insufficient means and the entire citizenry of Delhi) are numerous, they are unlikely to approach the Court. 

In view of the urgent nature of the present matter and the delay that would occur in case representations are made to the concerned authorities, the petitioners have approached the Court directly seeking redressal. 

The petition stated that the petitioners are fully cognizant of the Judgment dated January 05, 2021 passed by the Supreme Court, whereby the Supreme Court has upheld and permitted the Central Vista Redevelopment Project. By this Petition, the Petitioners are in no manner seeking to overreach the said Judgement. 

Further, the Petitioners are not challenging such part of the Project which involves the construction of the new Parliament building, where, according to information received by the Petitioners, provision has been made for onsite accommodation of workers. Further, whilst the Petitioners, like many others, are also aggrieved by the diversion of funds to this mammoth re -development project running into crores of rupees, which funds in these pandemic times, could and ought to have been better utilised to ramp up the failed and crumbling health infrastructure, the Petitioners, whilst reserving her right, are not agitating the same at present. 

The Petitioners said that the Petition is concerned with the ongoing construction activity in part of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project designated as ‘Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project’ and is challenging Respondents relentless, unmindful and reckless act of carrying on this Project in a manner that poses a threat to the lives of the citizens of Delhi and beyond, including the lives of the work force /labour engaged in the Project, as it has the potential of being a super spreader, and is in clear breach and violation of the Orders passed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority. 

The Petitioners are also questioning why or how the Project constitutes an “essential service”, merely because some executive mandated contractual dead line has to be met. 

The Petitioners’ respectful submitted  that in the current dismal scenario, this Project has no feature of “essentiality” for and/or of “service” to the public at large. 

Additionally, it is submitted that the impugned acts are totally contrary to and in gross violation of the Orders dated April 06, 2021, April 08, 2021, April 10, 2021, April 15, 2021,  April 19, 2021 and April 25, 2021 issued in the public interest by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority. 

In December 2020, the Central Vista Development Project was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India. The Project intends to revamp 86 acres of land in Delhi, which includes Rajpath, Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, North Block and South Block, Shastri Bhavan, India Gate and Udyog Bhavan. 

The project envisages construction of a new Parliament building, a common secretariat for central government offices, Prime Minister’s office and residence, Special Protection Group building and Vice-President Enclave. The construction work for the project is being carried out since January 05, 2021, after the Supreme Court dismissed Petitions challenging the project, the petition said. 

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“On April 16, 2021, the Executive Engineer, Central Vista Project Division- III, Central Public Works Department, wrote a letter to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, New Delhi seeking permission to allow Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Pvt. Ltd. to continue construction activities at the Project during night/ weekend curfew period on the pretext that the work is of a time bound nature and is required to be completed before November 30, 2021,” the petition reads. 

It was further prayed that Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Pvt. Ltd. be allowed to ferry their workers to and from their labour camp at Sarai Kale Khan through their own buses during the curfew period.

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